Living in the mountains has many advantages for me. First, there is something in the mountains that is intangible but that gives me great joy. Then, there is nature and that gives me joy regardless of the landscape, but the mountains are still my favorite. I moved up to Beech Mountain, NC because I wanted to be close enough to my mom as she ages, but move to a cooler place. The cooler air on Beech Mountain has really helped me to breathe and be able to get out and walk more in nature.
One of the added benefits of moving to this area was unexpected. When I first realized I was moving to the area, I had planned on attending the Lutheran church. The one that I knew would be safe for a lesbian to attend ended up being too far to drive if I wanted to remain active in a congregation. The life of a congregation is an important experience for me. Devotional life as a hermit appeals, but it is the life of the community that draws us outward into the world. A balance of private and public worship creates a balanced faith.
I had talked with the priest’s wife, Pan, on Facebook before attending Holy Cross. Since it was more in the country, I wanted to make sure it was safe for a lesbian to attend. I don’t go around shouting that I’m a lesbian, but as a butch person, it’s always rather obvious. Pan assured me that while Holy Cross had people who may express differences, there were also many who wouldn’t care. Finding a new church for a gay or lesbian is always a challenge if the person is out. I lived in a closet for over 40 years. I wasn’t about to go back in one in order to worship a loving God.
If I believe in redemption and the love of God as much as I say I do, I knew I would need to continue to be myself as I moved to this new place. Beech Mountain is a small town, more of a village really and there’s no church up here so if I want to make friends, it comes down to attending yoga (since I don’t ski or snowboard) on the mountain, and going down into Banner Elk to find a church.
I knew from my membership at St. Peter’s Episcopal in Charlotte and St. David’s in Sylva that the Episcopal church had continually been another safe place of worship for me. I even had a powerful small congregation in Shawnee, Oklahoma, but it was hard for me to attend often there. I lived far out in the wilderness and the miles of dirt roads became their own adventure. On Beech Mountain, I would have to figure out the descent and ascent in the snowy weather, but that was about it.
The drive down from Beech Mountain to Valle Crucis is a spiritual experience in itself. My friends who aren’t fond of heights or curvy roads say it’s because the travelers are praying they don’t go over the edge of the mountain. The roads can be tricky if one drives too fast. I warn everyone about the plenitude of deer. I even had to up my car insurance when I moved up here because the deer cause so many accidents.
For me, however (and Birdie my dog), the drive down is glorious because of all the nature. I love seeing the deer and slow down to make sure none dart in front of me. The landscape is glorious and many times, I drive in and out of clouds on the descent or ascent. Once, The sun was shining in Banner Elk, and at the top of Beech, there was a black cloud. By the time I got to my side of Beech Mountain, I had driven back out of the black cloud. As I battle days of depression, I know that this will be a metaphor of my ability to get through the dark days that life can and will bring. Below are some pictures I took on the way to church or on the way home. You can see why it is glorious.
The people at Holy Cross are lovely. Devoted to prayer and healing, they also work to serve the community and feed the hungry. This summer, the church has a food ministry for the children in the area who usually get free lunches at school. In the fall, the Valle Crucis County Fair is run by the church to raise money for the community’s needs.
For the first six months, I had to take Dramamine before driving to church. The roads are so curvy on the way day and the change in altitude caused all kinds of unexpected challenges. It didn’t take long, however, to discover that this congregation was worth the drive. I prefer the more liturgical churches or I could have worshiped closer in Banner Elk. There are more experiences that I value at Holy Cross though.
In addition to it being a beautiful drive to church, the priest and the music program are great. Father Allan McCaslin is the senior priest and recently the congregation has hired a new Curate, Anna Shine. Fresh out of Harvard, she was only ordained a month ago. Still, she is a great preacher as is Fr. McCaslin. Holy Cross is a great little church with a huge heart. We had a bagpiper to lead us into worship this past Sunday. There are always musical gifts and spiritual gifts whenever this congregation meets. If you are vacationing in the area or have moved to the area, I encourage you to join us.
“The great work before us will be messy and costly. It will demand generosity and sacrifice. It will require creativity and faith to keep moving forward against daunting opposition.…we will need ongoing encouragement and support from one another, because we’re in this together, and we can’t succeed in isolation.” Brian D. McLaren:The Great Spiritual Migration